Sunless Citadel, part 3

My D&D group has been running the excellent Sunless Citadel dungeon crawl, from Tales of the Yawning Portal. The group is Roland (my Aasimar Paladin), Slith (dragonborn rogue), Egdul (dwarf barbarian), Evan (human ranger/warlock) and Dri (dragonborn barbarian, replacing our wizard). Last time, the group had just defeated a group of hobgoblins guarding over a goblin community…

The group headed into the adjacent room, which they determined (through Slith’s listening at the door) was the goblin’s common area. Evan—who had multi-classed to a warlock—used his awakened mind power to send a telepathic message to the goblins, urging them to flee. The group burst in, and the goblin commoners panicked and ran.

The only foes remaining were a goblin cleric and some powerful hobgoblin warriors. As they saw the group, the cleric cast spirit guardians [a particularly nasty spell for low-level characters, which circle the caster and cause a lot of damage]. The spirit guardians took out Slith—who had slunk in close to try and sneak attack the cleric. Evan fired a volley of arrows while Egdul charged, killing one of the hobgoblins.

Roland shouted a challenge to the cleric, attempting to use his abjure enemy Paladin power to frighten the cleric. This failed, so he cast blessing on the remaining group members as Egdul and Evan continued attacking. Roland then charged into the fray, but was immediately knocked out by the hobgoblins. Egdul, who had taken a lot of damage by this point, soon joined him.

Evan retreated, firing as he went. Meanwhile, Roland nearly died from his wounds [I failed two death saving throws; one more and I would be permanently dead]. Suddenly, Roland’s celestial guardian blessed him, and he was revived [I rolled a natural 20 on my next death saving throw]. He healed Egdul and Slith as Evan was backed into a corner. The revived group charged from the rear, and killed all their enemies.

[By this point I decided I needed to adjust my strategy with Roland. With a lot of damage inflicted by other party members, but very little support (especially after we lost Azaban) Roland was really needed to buff the party. I began to focus more on this aspect of my paladin, downplaying front-line fighting for defense and protection]

Gathering their wits, the group chased down one of the fleeing goblins for information. Facing an intimidating Aasimar, the goblin told them the apples they sold to the village came from a tree that grew in the lower levels. After resting, the group headed down the pit they had found.

They climbed down successfully, but their gnome cleric friend [who we forgot about during the last fight] slipped. The group watched in horror as he fell the entire length of the pit, landing as a pile of goo. Before they could react, skeletons and twig blights emerged from the shadows. The group easily dispatched them, and moved on.

Exploring the twisting passageways, the group bumped into a trio of bugbears. The bugbears proved a challenge, landing a few good blows on Roland and Egdul. But they managed to kill two before the third surrendered. Roland successfully intimidated him into giving them directions to the tree before letting him go [I was still working out how to role-play an Oath of Vengeance Paladin and think this wasn’t the right approach].

Continuing on, the group found two goblins torturing a rat with prison. Roland killed one in rage, and ordered the other one to flee. The group continued on, passing other rooms with goblins and skeletons, and a fungus farm. [we were trying to finish the adventure before we ran out of time in the session]

They came on a room with a large dragon statue. Slith climbed it to get at some gems when a shadow appeared and attacked. Roland moved quickly against it, destroying it in a burst of radiant damage [I used divine smite with a war hammer blow, which was enough to destroy it. It was pretty cool]

The group moved on, exploring some empty rooms. They found what seemed to be a study, and took scrolls of faerie fire and entangle and a treatise on druidcraft.

Exhausting the twisting passageways in the cavern, the group found an opening to the outside. They followed it into a foreboding wooded area. They came on a cage holding a man and woman. The group freed them, and the man explained he had set out with the woman and her brother (the villagers they had been sent to save) to explore the mystery behind the apples. He told them the goblins had tortured and killed the woman’s brother, causing her to go into shock. Roland burst into a fit of rage, smashing a tree into kindling, while the others tried to comfort the freed prisoners. Meanwhile, Dri—a dragonborn barbarian who had been wandering around the woods—came on the group. He offered to help for a share of the treasure. Roland was irritated with his mercenary approach, but agreed [a replacement player for Azaban]

The man pointed out where the mastermind—an evil druid—could be found, and the group moved on. As they were weary and low on spell slots, they decided to be strategic. Slith and Evan snuck up to assess the situation. They saw the druid and two hobgoblins within the ruins of a wall, standing by an evil-looking tree. Letting the rest of the group know, they came up with a plan. Slith and Evan would climb onto the walls. Roland would cast entangle on the druid, then Slith and Evan would attack him; the others would try and attack from a distance, to wear the enemies down.

They launched the attack. The druid and two of the hobgoblins were caught in the entangling vines, while Slith and Evan nearly killed the druid with their attack. The druid called for them to stop, so he could explain everything. Roland refused to deal with the evil-doer (who he had now adopted as his sworn foe) and the rest of the group agreed [everyone wanted to fight]. Slith and Evan fired another volley at the druid, killing him.

The rest closed on the hobgoblins, confident of their victory when the man they had rescued attacked Roland from behind. He had turned a sickly grayish color, and had immense strength. Slith attempted to help Roland, but was knocked out. Roland held off the man until Evan, Egdul and Dri could kill the hobgoblins and come to help.

Finding the woman knocked unconscious, but alive, they revived her, and returned to the village…

[we ended kind of abruprtly because we ran out of time, so didn’t really conclude. I think the DM may have this run directly into Tomb of Annihilation, but he hasn’t told us yet, so tune in for future posts…]

That’s it for the Sunless Citadel, an adventure deserving of its legendary status. In a future post, I will discuss why it’s so great. I can’t promise that post will come next week; as I announced on Twitter, my wife gave birth to our second child last week. It’s hard to write blog posts in a sleep-induced fog (I had pre-written these). But I’ll try to get it up as soon as I can. Thanks for your patience.


Sunless Citadel walkthrough, part 2

Last time, my group (Roland, Aasimar Paladin; Slith, dragonborn rogue; Azaban, human wizard; Evan, human ranger/warlock; and Egdul, dwarf barbarian) gathered and entered the Sunless Citadel to rescue some villagers…

The group moved through the corridors and room of the citadel, exploring carefully. After a short time, they heard whimpering up ahead, past a closed door. Slith listened at the door to determine if there was anything else to be afraid of. Not hearing anything, he carefully opened the door and Egdul and Roland entered.

In this large room they saw an empty cage and a weeping kobold. He introduced himself as Meepo, and explained that the wyrmling the kobolds guarded had been captured by a tribe of goblins who lived deeper in the citadel. Roland, having sworm to exact vengeance on the goblins who captured the villagers, offered to help (the group, eager for a fight, followed along).

Meepo took the group to the leader of the kobolds. She explained more about their feud with the goblins, and the goblins’ strength due to mysterious “friends.” The group agree to try and rescue the wyrmling, and Meepo escorted them to the goblin territory.

They came to a room filled with sarcaphogi. Roland, suspicious, cast his divine sense and sensed undead within the sarcaphogi. Evan, itching for a fight with his sworm enemy, opened up one of them. The others opened in turn, and a group of skeletons attacked the party. Evan felled one with an arrow, while Egdul smashed another with his axe and Azaban took out one with a fire bolt. Roland, meanwhile, was slower to move, and missed with his first attack [I rolled low on initiative]. He despaired that he would miss the fight when he managed to land a massive blow on the last of the skeletons, smashing it into dust with his war hammer [skeletons are resistant to bludgeoning damage]. The group moved on [I wrote about this in a past post, “Why I love D&D”]

Moving on, the group rounded a corner…and ran into a patrol of goblins. Roland charged, and Azaban cast flaming hands, killing the goblins. Beyond that room, the group came on a corridor filled with caltrops. Roland began moving carefully forward into the corridor with Egedul when a rain of crossbow bolts shot out from behind a barricade. Roland was hit and wounded, but pressed on with Egedul. Evan gave them cover with his bow, while Slith snuck carefully among the caltrops to surprise the attacker. Evan managed to kill one of the goblins before Roland made it to the barricade, leaping over and grabbing the other goblin [good Athletic check].

Roland demanded info from the goblin. The goblin said humans had passed through but knew nothing more; he also said he could provide passwords for the group to move further into goblin territory. The group warily agreed, and brought the now bound goblin to the locked door at the end of the corridor.

At the door, the goblin shouted “intruders are here,” in goblin. Unfortunately for him, Roland spoke goblin. He knocked the goblin out, and the group prepared for battle.

Deciding offense was the best defense, Egdul smashed open the door, and the group charged. Evan cast dancing lights down the corridor in an attempt to distract the enemy, while Roland shouted a warning for the goblins to surrender [attempted intimidation check]

The group continued forward when a hail of arrows shot at them from the end of the corridor. Two hit Roland, but he managed to keep charging with Egedul. As they began to fight the goblins, they realized these were tougher than the others. Roland used divine smite with his attack to cause extra damage, while Slith managed to backstab one of the goblins, taking him down.

Hoping to end the fight, Azaban rushed forward and cast flaming hands. Unfortunately, Roland was in the way, and Roland was singed along with the goblins. The burst of flame did harm them enough, however, to allow Egdul and Slith to finish them off.

Evan teased Azaban on his aim, and the group moved on. In the next room, they found a set of cages, with some kobolds and a chained up gnome inside. They freed the gnome, who introduced himself as a cleric captured by the goblins. He agreed to accompany the group.

The group backtracked a bit, as they had run out of corridors. They found a room with a keg attached to pipes. Roland and Egdul decided to smash it open to see what was inside. Out burst a steam mephit and ice mephit, who attacked. The steam mephit’s attack took down Roland, who was still wounded from Azaban’s spell. The others in the group took care of the mephitis, and, after reviving Roland, they rested.

After waking they moved on, making their way through the kobold territory. They walked through kobold barracks and, thanks to Azaban’s interpretation of kobold hand-signals, managed to avoid a trap the  kobolds had set up; a bucket filled with waste over the door.

Beyond the kobold territory, they came to a door. Listening, Slith heard the sounds of numerous goblins. Wary of taking on a whole goblin tribe, but realizing they were on the right track, the group backtracked to find a way around it [we were pretty lost at this point]

They came to a circular room with a pit and evil-looking vines in the center. At the far end they saw a hobgoblin on a throne, surrounded by other hobgoblins and a robed goblin. Roland strode into the room, and shouted a challenge to the hobgoblins. This did not have the response Roland hoped for, and the hobgoblins attacked.

Egdul wrote, “let’s think this through more next time” (prompting jokes about the barbarian being more strategic than the Paladin) and charged into the room. He pounced on the robed goblin, and killed her with a flurry of blows [he managed to hit with all his barbarian-enhanced attacks]. Evan, meanwhile, cast fog cloud to hopefully give the group some cover.

Roland shouted a vow of enmity [his Oath of Vengeance power that gives advantage on attacks] and charged. He tried to grappled the leader, but failed as the strong hobgoblin threw him off and hit him with his greatsword. Roland and the leader engaged in melee as Evan fired into the fog cloud, Egdul charged the other hobgoblins, and Azaban fired magic missile into the fray.

Roland used his remaining divine smites to harm the hobgoblin, then cast bane (which frightens the target). The hobgoblin laughed off Roland’s spell, and felled him with a mighty blow. By this point Egdul had taken out the other hobgoblins, so the gnome was able to rush up to Roland and heal him.

Once up, Roland attacked the hobgoblin leader who counterattacked…felling Roland again. The rest of the group was able to kill the hobgoblin leader, however, and revived Roland.

Searching through the remains, the group found the signet ring of the son of their benefactor and some other assorted treasure. Barricading the doors, the group rested while Roland sat in the corner, fuming over what he saw as his failure to defend the villagers….

Tune in next week for the conclusion of the Sunless Citadel.

The Sunless Citadel walkthrough, part 1

As I’ve mentioned a few times on twitter, my group that ran Out of the Abyss last fall switched things up and I actually got to be a D&D player for the first time in years. One of the other players helpfully stepped up to be DM, and was interested in running the new Tomb of Annihilation campaign. First, we wanted to run one of the dungeons from the Tales from the Yawning Portal, the Sunless Citadel.

The group (which will change a bit throughout the adventure) were: me, playing Roland—the Aasimar Oath of Vengeance Paladin I’ve written about a lot—Slith, a dragonborn rogue; Evan, a human ranger/warlock; Azaban, a human wizard; and Egedul, a dwarf barbarian.

The adventure began with Roland heading out for a patrol with the Knights of the Gilded Eye. This knightly order dedicated to Helm had taken Roland in as a child and trained him to be a paladin. Roland had recently graduated from squiredom, and eagerly joined his trainer on a patrol through the Mere of Dead Men.

Unfortunately, a group of Orcus cultists had been tracking Roland since they saw him in the city. They desired to capture and use the Aasimar for one of their dark rituals. The cultists ambushed the knights, slaying several before they could respond. Roland and the remaining knights tried to hold them off, but they were overwhelmed. The knights circled their young comrade to keep him safe, but fell one by one. As Roland was about to charge heedlessly at the cultists, using his radiant consumption power to take a few of them out before he too fell, an arrow flew out of the trees. Several more followed, scattering the cultists, and they ran into the swamp.

Out of the gloom stepped Evan. Evan’s village had been destroyed by undead, and he dedicated his life to hunting them. He had been tracking the cultists for some time, hoping to punish those who worship the undead. Roland expressed his thanks, even though he was still haunted by the death of his friends. Evan suggested they move on; he had heard rumors that a woman in the village of Oakhurst was looking for adventurers to help her family. Roland agreed, and they headed towards the village. [Evan’s player and I decided to coordinate our backgrounds]

After a few days of travel in which Roland and Evan developed a healthy respect despite their clashing personalities, they came upon a wizard sitting by the side of the road. He mentioned he was heading to Oakhurst, so Roland eagerly invited him along, noting the roads weren’t safe for solo travelers. The group set out.

After another day they heard a voice come from the leaves, asking if they were friends. Roland assured the voice they meant harm only to evildoers, and a small dragonborn came out from hiding. He introduced himself as Slith, and asked to join the group. Sensing a basic goodness, the group welcome him [Slith’s player decided he was a wizard’s experiment, explaining his small size]

Later that day, they came on a filthy dwarf, naked except for a loincloth, picking his toes with a great axe. Roland greeted him, and realized the dwarf was mute. After communicating via pantomime and a slate the dwarf used to write on, the group set off for Oakhurst [I think the veteran player wanted to allow others to do more role-playing, so chose a mute character]

Eventually, they arrived in the village of Oakhurst. Locating the inn, they went inside. Roland bought drinks for the group, and asked the bartender about the woman who was looking for adventurers. The bartender pointed them in the right direction, and they headed off.

The woman lived in a grand manor, and eagerly welcomed the adventurers. She explained that occasionally goblins appear with golden apples they sell to the villagers. No one knew where they came from, as those who did turned up dead, covered in needle-like wounds. A few people from town—including her children—decided to explore the ravine, but they never returned.

Roland jerked up in rage, at the thought of innocent villagers being held by goblins. He swore they would find them, and punish their tormentors. He also refused any offer of payment. As they left, Evan noted that they shouldn’t let the paladin negotiate payment in the future.

After travelling the rest of the day, the group arrived at the ravine the woman mentioned. They decided to rest for the night, taking on the watch in shifts. During Roland’s shift he noticed dark shapes slinking towards camp. Shouting an alarm and casting light (his innate cantrip) on the shapes, he charged as the others woke up.

The group was surrounded by twig blights. They turned back to back, fighting off the approaching horrors. Slith fell under the attacks of two of them, but the rest of the group fought them off and Roland healed the dragonborn.

The next morning they headed into the ravine. They could see a stairwell in the ravine, heading further into the depths. Egedul and Evan decided to head in first to scout out the situation. As they approached the stairway, giant rats attacked out of piles of refuse. The rest of the group hurriedly climbed down, but the rats were all dead by they arrived.

The group slowly walked down the stairwell. Evan went first, scouting ahead, followed by Roland, ready to rush forward in case of action. Slith and Azaban followed behind them, with Egedul taking up the rear.

The stairwell wound around what looked like a parapet and ended in a courtyard. The group realized this was some sort of castle that had sunk deep into the ravine. They seemed to towards the top, with the bottom levels lost in the depths. Evan motioned for the group to wait as he crossed the courtyard, checking for traps.

Carefully opening a door, and disarming a few pit traps he found, the group moved forward into…the Sunless Citadel.

I’ll continue the group’s adventure next time.

Crusader Kings 2 walkthrough: William the Conqueror!

My group finished the D&D 5e Sunless Citadel dungeon crawl this weekend. While I write up the walk-through I thought I’d start another walk-through from Crusader Kings 2. This excellent game lets you pick a medieval dynasty and play it through 1453. I previously wrote about my efforts to restore Charlemagne’s Empire, beginning with the last Karling count in 1066.

This time, I’m going to be playing as William the Conqueror. After playing several games as obscure (to me) leaders, I thought it would be fun to play as someone I knew well. As you’ll see, a rather humorous pattern emerged from the Norman rulers of England…

I started just after William the Conqueror’s successful invasion of England in 1066. William was now King of England, and the holder of significant land in both England and Normandy. William divided up Normany between his sons, and set about securing his Kingdom.

His first action was to reach out to the Duke of York, the most powerful remaining Anglo-Saxon ruler who held much of northern England. Surprisingly, the two got along well. William made him his Marshal, and they became close friends. William spent the next decade building up his Kingdom and defending against a failed attempt by France to retake Normandy. Unfortunately, he fell in 1079, fighting off a Viking raid.

William’s oldest son, William, died mysteriously (likely by one of his siblings) so the crown passed to Richard I. Unlike his father, Richard was cruel and despised, focusing his energies on intrigue rather than martial prowess. He appointed his brother—with whom he had always been close—as his spymaster, and set about subjugating England.

Unfortunately, several of his vassals rose up in rebellion, in an attempt to decrease the King’s power. Richard won, and executed all the rebels. The rebels did not include the Duke of York, who continued to maintain close ties to the Norman rulers. But unrest continued, and the king’s brother was assassinated by a Norman count. Richard arrested the man behind the assasination, and planned for a broader campaign against dissidents…but he died, in 1097, fighting a Viking raid.

He was succeeded by his young son, Richard II. Another rebellion broke out against Normal rule, but Richard II—who was more martially inclined than his father—easily defeated the traitors. Flush with success, he launched a holy war against Scandinavian pagans. He successfully seized some Swedish land for England, but…died in battle in 1109.

The King died with no heir, so the throne passed to William II, Richard II’s cousin. William II went insane shortly after becoming King and died by 1112.

Roger, brother of William II, then became King. He was proud man, who enjoyed showing off his martial talents. He decided to expand Richard II’s efforts against the pagans in Scandinavia. He succeeded in another holy war, taking more land for England, but…died in battle in 1124.

His son, William, ascended to the throne as William III (the Cruel). William was completely lacking in diplomatic skills, but was an able administrator. He set about developing the Kingdom, but faced a revolt by the new Duke of York to put the last Godwin back on the English throne. The old Duke of York had managed to maintain his power with close ties to the hated Norman invaders, but his son had no desire to continue this pattern.

William III tried to put down the revolt by arresting the claimant—a child of 8—but this angered the southern lords, who also launched a rebellion. William III defeated his challengers, but the Kingdom was bankrupt and he was exhausted. He organized a grand tournament to try and unify the Kingdom, but died from an illness before it could be held, in 1131.

So that’s the first few Norman kings of England. This year—1131—was about the time the historical dynasty descended into chaos due to succession issues, with the Plantagenet dynasty eventually emerging. Will the same fate befall the Normans in my Crusader Kings game? Tune in next time…

Crusader Kings 2 walkthrough: Charlemagne’s Empire restored.

I am busy with Christmas, so I thought I’d post the rest of my walkthrough for Crusader Kings 2. I ran a game in which I played as the last descendant of Charlemagne and attempted to restore his empire. It proved difficult, but in this post I achieve it, kind of.

Last time, Denise–one of the most effective leaders to come out of the Karling line–died after joining the Holy Roman Empire. She passed down the French crown, and a wealthy realm, to her dissolute son Jaspert. Jaspert had ruled Flanders and Franconia beginning as a young man (when his father, Denise’s husband, died). He was a capable ruler, but had several…moral failings.

After his mother’s death, he finally reunited the Karling lands (separated since the time of Clotaire in in the 11th century). He proceeded to seize the remaining de jure lands of France, now held by various independent Counts and Dukes after the dissolution of France/Aquitaine/Brittany. He thus greatly expanded his realm, but also had a series of affairs and became a drunkard. Eventually, he developed Great Pox (syphilis), and went insane, thinking he heard Jesus talking to him. In his middle age he was assassinated, probably by his wife.

Jaspert had many daughters, but no legitimate sons. The oldest daughter with a male son would win the succession contest (it was a little complicated). Jockeying for position began well before Jaspert’s death, and two his daughters died at the result of shadowy plots. The crown passed to a younger daugther, Mathilda (who had a male son, Geraud) on Jaspert’s death. Unfortunately, Mathilda was assassinated soon after taking the throne, and Geraud became King.

Geraud was sickly and weak, but was a brilliant administrator who was married to the Emperor’s daughter. Soon after he came to power, his uncle–one of Jaspert’s illegitimate sons–rose up in rebellion. Despite his infirmities, Geraud rode to battle against his treacherous kin and…was hit in the head. He died shortly thereafter.

The crown then passed to his three year old daughter, Denise II. Her brother was born shortly after she became Queen (her mother was pregnant when Geraud died), complicating the succession a bit. But all of the French vassals supported her, and she grew up in a peaceful and stable realm. [this seemed a little too easy, but whatever]

Upon adulthood, she consolidated her lands and developed France, turning it into the wealthiest part of the Empire. Her first son died young, so she took up a lover, causing considerable tensions with her husband.

As she got older, Denise II realized that the King of Lotharingia was part of a minor branch of the Karling family (the family tree got complicated). Her kinsman also had a claim to the Empire through some marriage ties. She decided to finally fulfill her ancestor Clotaire’s wishs (even if it did not benefit her directly). She launched a rebellion to make the King of Lotharingia the Holy Roman Empire. She succeeeded, and at long last, a Karling was once again Emperor.

[And that’s where I stopped. There was more to do in the game, but I had basically achieved my goal. Hope you found this saga enjoyable.]



The Elder God’s Cavern level 2, session 2 (continued)

Last time, the group made their way through level 2 of the multi-level D&D 5e dungeon I am running. They found some new allies, and were about to assault the hobgoblin lair to recover the parts for the submersible that would take them to the next level. The group included Uatu (a halfling warlock), Black Lotus (a drow monk), Crohm (a human fighter), Dre (a dragonborn barbarian) and Goris (a half-orc barbarian).

They moved forward cautiously, Black Lotus in the lead. The passageway became more regular, as if workers had carved flat corrridors out of the stone. They came to a wide, square-shaped room with a heavyset door at the opposite when arrows flew by them.

Two hobgoblins were hiding behind barricades, firing. Uatu fired eldritch blasts in return, while the rest of the group charged. Suddenly more arrows flew by them, as they saw hobgoblins firing from murder holes in the door. The group started to pull back but Dre charged the doors, smashing them open [he wasn’t supposed to be able to do that, but rolled a natural 20]

The group took out the hobgoblin archers, but more appeared at the end of the passageway, and continued to fire. They killed a few of them, but the group was out of spells, wounded and exhausted, when a gruff voice called out to them.

It was Grort, the leader of the hobgoblin. He asked for a truce, arguing that he’d lost many fighters, but the group couldn’t kill all of them. They agreed, and everyone lowered their weapons. Uatu told him they wanted to get to the lower levels, and needed the gnome the hobgoblins had captured.

The gnome, Fonken, was brought out [he may sound familiar. Fonken is one of my characters (who I’ll do an Origin Stories post on eventually) that I’ve used in another adventure as well]. The group tried to convince the hobgoblins to let Fonken go, but they refused. Grort asked for all the group’s treasure, which didn’t go over well. At an impasse, Grort then challenged one of them to single combat.

Black Lotus stepped up, and the fight began. A weakened Black Lotus was visibly struggling, when Uatu walked over to a robed human who accompanied Grort. Uatu pointed out Grort was weakened, and suggested the human make a bid for leadership. He was convincing [rolled well on persuasion] and just as Grort was about to strike a killing blow on Black Lotus, the human cast a spell and a pillar of fire descended on Grort, killing him [he cast sacred flame]

The human announced he was in charge, and the hobgoblins—irritated with Grort’s leadership, and respecting strength—welcome that.  The human agreed to let Fonken fix the submersible and be free if he helped them maintain their own drainage system [the group didn’t really get into this, but Fonken had used parts from the submersible to create pumps to keep the hobgoblin lair dry; the tunnels for these could have provided another entryway for the group]

Everyone agreed to this deal, the bandits held a feast for the group, and then set off the next morning.

Here’s the prepared text for their exit:

With a jolt and a shudder, the device activates. You begin to sink into the water, and strange lights ignire on the outside of the device. Looking out the windows, you can see the device floating downwards, towards a dark hole in the river that must lead deeper into the hill. The device enters the hole with a whoosh, shaking a bit. You can see the rock walls flying by—you’re travelling incredibly fast now. Suddenly the walls disappear, and you’re in a fantastically large cavern. The lights don’t even reach the walls, and it’s almost as if you’re in the ocean. You start to see other lights in the deep, and realize there are glowing fish out there. And you jump back with a start as a gigantic fish, the size of a house, passes by. Suddenly you realize you’ve been travelling fast and deep enough to reach deep into the earth.

Just as you begin to worry about where you’re going, the walls close in around you again and you can see daylight. The device comes to rest in a strange upwards-flowing waterfall, moves out of the water, and settles into a cradle. The doors open up.

Looking around, you see you’re in a long, broad tunnel. As you orient yourselves, you realize this must run the length of the hill. At the west end of the tunnel, you can see daylight. At the east end is a stone door.

The group found a sealed door at one end of the cavern, and at the other they came out into a narrow valley holding a decrepit, creepy-looking house.

To be continued in Level 3 of The Elder God’s Cavern…

[I am saving my commentary on the creation of this dungeon till the end, but I wanted to say a few things about how this level played out. I had prepared a few ways in for both the bullywug and hobgoblin lair. I also came up with negotiation possibilities for both. The group found the bullywug secret entrance, which helped. For the hobgoblins, there was a control room for the submersible that was turned into a pumping station by Fonken. The group could have used tunnels in this station to sneak through the hobgoblin lair.

It seemed like a good practice when creating a lair, to set up options for sneaking and negotiation (in addition to frontal assault). That can make the adventure more interesting, and appeal to different types of groups.]


The Elder God’s Cavern, level 2, session 2

The group re-formed to finish the second level of the dungeon. We had Crohm (human fighter), Uatu (halfling warlock), Black Lotus (drow monk), and two newcomers: Dre (dragonborn barbarian) and Goris (half-orc barbarian). I run the group through Meetup, so try to accommodate people who join halfway through. Once again, we met at the excellent Killer Rabbit Comics and Games in South Burlington, VT.

The group took a long rest to recover from the fight. After waking, they heard a commotion: what sounded like shouting, and someone running towards them.

They decided to prepare by hiding the tiger corpse to avoid raising suspicion. Unfortunately, it proved heavier than they expected, so they were still pulling on it as a dragonborn and half-orc ran into the cavern, followed soon after by three hobgoblins [everyone failed their strength checks].

The group rushed to attack, while the Dre and Goris turned on their pursuers. Goris ripped out one of the tiger’s fangs to use as a dagger, and Dre attacked with his hands. The group quickly took care of the hobgoblins, and introduced themselves to the new-comers. They had been travelling through the highlands to the west when they were set upon by a group of hobgoblins and captured. Their captors were escorting them back to their lair when they made a break for it.

After introductions, the group explained what they were trying to accomplish. The newcomers knew the way to the hobgoblin lair, but they decided to look for the alternative power source for the submersible first. Heading northwest, they came into a slimy cavern that ended in the rushing river. While exploring the riverbank, a green slime dropped on Uatu, injuring him. He scraped it off with a rock, and they moved on.

The next cavern was overgrown with waist-high (for a human) mushrooms. The group began cutting their way through when suddenly a horrid shrieking sound erupted beside them. Uatu saw it was coming from a strange fungus, and realized it was a shrieker [rolled a Nature check]. He tugged on it, but it wouldn’t budge. Goris tried to help by tugging on Uatu, but it still wouldn’t come out. Then Dre shouted, “I’ll just smash it!” ran over, and missed, kicking Uatu in the head [two failed strength checks, and a critical failure by Dre].

The group decided to move on. They came out in a familiar passageway. Remembering that it led to the trapped passageway Black Lotus stumbled over (last session), they headed the other direction.

They came out into a ruined temple. A statue of a blinded and maimed god stood on a pedestal, with a sealed chest behind him. On the pedestal was written, “follow in my footsteps to gain my aid.” On the wall were carving of horrific beasts—reminiscent of the tentacled creatures in the carvings above them—attacking human cities but being held back by figures emitting light. In one corner, a figure holding back the beasts had a different beast behind him, aiding him.

The group tried to figure out how to open the chest, but it wouldn’t budge. Black Lotus walked in the direction the statue was looking, but nothing happened. Uatu identified the statue as Tyr [religion check], and Dre closed his eyes and walked blindly. At this, the statue clicked open. Inside they found a decanter of endless water, a rope of climbing, and two sending stones.

They backtracked their way south, past the tiger lair, to a large, oddly shaped room with numerous, dark, alcoves. The floor was covered with a fungus Goris recognized as growing from corpses, and the room had a horrid, rotting smell. As they carefully explored the alcoves, a ghoul appeared out of the darkness, and bit Uatu in the shoulder.

The others rushed in as two other ghouls and a zombie came out of the darkness. The ghouls bit Black Lotus and Dre as well, but they fought off the stiffness in their limbs [succeeded in saving throw against paralysis]. They defeated the undead rather easily [I was a little disappointed, was hoping for a least one paralysis]. In the alcoves they found assorted treasure, and a glowing stone [“does it look like a power source?” one of my players facetiously asked]

They headed back to the passageway to the hobgoblin lair. Remembering the traps last time, Black Lotus walked carefully, but still got hit with an arrow. He then decided to poke the floor ahead of him with a stick, and discovered the rest of the traps. Unfortunately, that included a set of bells that rang alarmingly loud…

Continued next week.

The Elder God’s Cavern, level 2, part 1

As I’ve discussed, I am working on a multi-level dungeon that will take characters from Level 1 to 5. Each level is an open-ended dungeon crawl with the objective of getting to the next level, but there is a storyline connecting them as the group progresses (I don’t want to give away any details in case my players read this).

Last time, a group of new adventurers were hired by a mysterious stranger to figure out why a river had gone dry. The town the river supplied was suffering, and he offered a rich reward for their help. The group entered the ruins of an ancient wizard’s tower and discovered a group of bandits had blocked the river. Along the way they found signs the wizard had worshiped strange, tentacled beings that seemed to threaten the world. After releasing the river, a ghostly voice emerged from the depths, and the group fled in terror…

The group from the first session of the Elder God’s Cavern re-gathered to being the next part of our journey. We had Uatu (Halfling warlock), Black Lotus (drow monk), and Crohm (human warrior). Nailo—the elf ranger—wasn’t able to make it.

After returning to the village in triumph, the group were cheered as heroes for restoring the river. They then proceeded to celebrate for the next week, spending much of the loot they found in the cavern on fine food, drink and clothing. Unfortunately, Nailo spent a bit too much, and skipped town in the middle of the night to avoid a bar tab (which Black Lotus had to pick up) [this is how I explained his absence]

As the group finished up another night in the pub, they heard a horrifying scream from outside. Rushing out, they saw a ghost grabbing a man, and flying up into the air with him. The ghost wailed, and the group recognized it as the same voice they heard as they freed the river.

Uatu panicked, and jumped headfirst into a rain barrel, but the rest of the group maintained their composure [he failed a Wisdom check]. As the ghost disappeared with the man, the cowering villagers turned on the group. They shouted at them for bringing this evil upon them, and started threatening their lives.

The group gathered back to back (after Crohm fished out Uatu), and thankfully Randulf appeared—in a burst of smoke and brimstone—to calm the crowd. He reminded the villagers that the group had saved them by freeing the river. If that indeed caused the ghost to appear, he was sure the group would fix it. He nudged Black Lotus as he said this. Taking his hint, the group offered to leave immediately and investigate.

They hiked through the night towards the hill with the river flowing through it. As they got closer, they realized an eerie silence hung over it, the normal nighttime sounds of insects and animals were missing. They slept fitfully by the side of the mountain, and entered the cavern the next morning.

As they travelled through the level they’d recently cleared out, they noted it was just as still and quiet as the outside. They stumbled upon the body of an elderly wizard; there were scorch marks around her, as if she’s used all her spells, but she seemed to have died of fright. Shaken, the group moved on, and found the stairs they had uncovered their last time here.

Climbing down the stairs they came into a damp cavern full of ankle-deep water (waist-deep for Uatu). The group moved out towards a closed door at the other end, when suddenly two constrictor snakes attacked. One managed to wrap itself around Uatu and drag him into the river, but the rest of the group freed him and killed the snakes before moving on.

They came on a forked passageway. One path looked relatively well-maintained, with a smooth floor and corners cut into the rock. The other looked like a natural cavern, worn and twisting. They chose the artificial path, which took them along a rushing river. Uatu noticed that the river flowed uphill, eventually bursting into the level above them in a sort of reverse waterfall. The group made a note to investigate that further.

As the group crept along in darkness, Black Lotus snuck ahead. He came upon a goblin peeing into the river. He snuck up behind the goblin, grabbed it, and held his knife to his throat. He then called for the group to catch up as he interrogated it.

The goblin—who introduced himself as Hoggle—tried to convince the group he was friendly, and just lived in these caverns. After Crohm smoothed things over, Hoggle told them a bit about the level. A group of “frog people” lived to the south, and they fought with hobgoblins across the river. The “frog people” had taken the controls for the bridge, leaving it submerged in the water, to defend against hobgoblin attacks. When asked about a ghost, he said something horrible flew through the cavern about a week ago, but he hid. He knew of a way down to lower levels, a weird machine floating on the opposite river bank; he didn’t know much about it, besides the fact that the hobgoblins took something from it.

After the rest of the group treated him nicely, Hoggle agreed to take them to his lair, which has a secret door into the “frog people” camp. He tried to keep his distance from Black Lotus, though.

The group passed a fountain flowing from a wall, but decided not to investigate it. They then arrived at Hoggle’s lair, a small cavern set high up above the river bank. He showed them the secret door, but asked that they promise not to tell the “frog people” about him. [this was meant to be an ally for the group, so I found it funny they nearly killed him.]

I’ll post the rest of our first session on level 2 next week.

Out of the Abyss conclusions, wrap-up

Well, my final session for the first half of Out of the Abyss never happened. A few of the members cancelled at the last minute (I may write a post on how to deal with this increasingly common part of modern gaming) and the rest of us decided to play the excellent Lords of Waterdeep instead.

As I mentioned on Twitter, I’m taking a break from DM-ing and we’ll be starting a new campaign, so we thought we’d just move on. I’ll still be doing walkthroughs of our sessions, although from the perspective of a player.

In this post, I thought I’d write up how I was planning to conclude part 1 of Out of the Abyss, in case anyone is following along for ideas to use in their own campaigns. I’ll also provide a few of my thoughts on the campaign.

Concluding Part 1

When we left off, the group was getting ready to wage the Battle for Blingdenstone. They needed to accomplish a few tasks for the deep gnomes before the battle could begin. And then, assuming they defeated the villainous Pudding King, the deep gnomes would lead the party to an exit from the Underdark.

The campaign book provides several tasks for the group. Some occur around Blingdenstone–putting deep gnome ghosts to rest, cleansing a holy site, defeating Ogremoch’s Bane (which corrupts earth elementals), and finding Entemoch’s Boon, which aids in their summoning. There were others that took the group to other areas of the Underdark–fetching special fungus materials from Neverlight Grove, and procuring a shipment of high-quality weapons from Gracklestugh. For each task the group undertook, they would gain some benefits in the battle.

I decided against running the outside-Blingdentsone tasks. These would be useful if the group went to Blingdenstone first, and the DM wanted them to fully explore the Underdark. But it would add too much time (and be a little annoying for them) to backtrack now. I was going to run through each of the three tasks in Blingdenstone, though, as they were varied adventures that provided more depth to the city.

After that would be the battle. This involves the group dealing with a few random encounters before battling two powerful oozes and then the Pudding King himself. As I’ve done before, I pre-rolled the random encounters so they would be all set–in this case the group would fight two waves of black puddings and ochre jellies. I’d then run the final battles.

The escape details are left up to the DM. I tried to come up with a simple, but memorable final battle. The deep gnomes would escort the group to an exit they knew of. This is a cave lit with wondrous light, which is a mixture of nightlight fungi growing in it and…daylight! The cave has a shaft leading up to another cave, which opens onto the surface.

The upper cave was an ancient elven temple, which they carved out and structured to Corellan Larethian. They carved steps into the shaft, and set up mirrors so the two sets of lights could intermix. If this sounds a little familiar, I took the idea of an abandoned elf temple as an Underdark exit from Baldur’s Gate 2 (see my thoughts on these games here).

But the drow who had initially captured the party would be awaiting them, as they’d gained intelligence on the party’s movements while they were in Blingdenstone. The drow would be hiding, try and surprise the party, and a chase would ensue.

I drew out a map and would use miniatures to track the progress of the chase. The varied terrain and option to ascend into daylight might have led to some interesting tactics.

And that would be it; they would be free from the Underdark, hoping they’d never have to return… (which is what would have happened if we continued the campaign)

Thoughts on Out of the Abyss

Overall, I thought this was a very well-done adventure. It’s my first published multi-adventure campaign for D&D, and I thought they did a good job. The encounters were varied and interesting, and the setting made for some memorable adventures.

DMs definitely need to read through the whole thing a few times, though. The adventure is open-ended, so you’ll need to have all chapters prepared simultaneously. Also, the flow of the adventure is not always clear. Without planning out various options, you may stumble while directing the players; this was especially the case in Gracklestugh.

My big complaint would be the cinematic nature of some encounters. As I’ve noted, at times the players just sit back and watch as things occur. Nothing they do really affects the outcome. This is particularly the case in the Kuo-Toa city on Darklake. Some parties may enjoy this, as they can interact with NPCs and try various options as things progress. My party tended to be on the quiet side, though, so they kind of waited until they had to act. So I’d be prepared for these sequences if you have a similar type of party.

But all in all, it was great. Maybe at some point I’ll reconvene the party and return to the Underdark…

Crusader Kings 2 walkthrough: Restoring Charlemagne’s Empire, part 3

I have been interspersing my RPG discussions with a walkthrough of the excellent Crusader Kings 2, in which players choose a dynasty and see it through from 1066 to 1453. In this game, I was playing as the last Karlings–Charlemagne’s descendants–confined to one county in France. Over time, they have schemed and conquered in an attempt to return the Karling family to greatness.

Last time, Clotaire II abandoned his family’s long feud with the foreign French monarchy, and died peacefully, mourned by all.

Clotaire II was succeeded by his eldest son, Lothaire. Where his father was noble and beloved, Lothaire was devious and feared. A great schemer, he immediately set to work bringing down the hated foreign king. Lothaire formed a faction to push for gavelkind succession; as the King had two young daughters this would lead to a division of the realm. Lothaire used his spies to gather dirt on other lords and blackmail them into joining his cause, then launched his rebellion. He easily won, and the King changed the succession rules.

Lothaire then moved into phase 2 of his plan. He had his spies abduct the King while he was travelling through the Karling lands. Lothaire then executed the King in prison. This led Lothaire to be widely despised, even by those who were not fond of the King. But it worked. The realm was divided between the two daughters. Brittany, Aquitaine and Aragon went to the eldest, and France to the younger.

[all of this was accomplished through the Intrigue actions available in the Way of Life expansion. I got a little lucky it all worked out, but when you have a high enough intrigue in a character, it can be a useful way to rule your realm through underhanded means.]

Lothaire then began plotting to overthrow his new Queen. He did not get very far in this latest scheme, however, as he was assassinated by bowmen while travelling on the roads. His list of enemies was too long for anyone to know for sure who was the killer.

Lothaire’s eldest son, Francois, inherited the Karling lands. He was a genius, and immediately set about developing and strengthening the administration of the realm. But he worked a bit too hard, and died of stress after only three years.

His brother, Lothaire II then became Duke. Lothaire II saw the repeated failures and frustration of his family, which he attributed to personal egos getting in the way of the cause. So he came up with a plan with his sister, Denise. She would marry their German cousin, now the Duke of Franconia and Flanders. Lothaire II would make her his heir. The two would then work to break their land free of what remained of France and join the Holy Roman Empire.

Their plans came together sooner than expected when the Queen of France faced a rebellion in the southern part of her realm. Lothaire II declared independence and easily won, although he was severely wounded in battle. He died less than a year after gaining independence, and his lands passed to Denise.

Denise was a brilliant and shrewd leader, who should have been the greatest of the Karlings but she repeatedly faced suspicion due to her gender.

Shortly after coming to power, she swore fealty to the Holy Roman Empire. After joining the Empire, her intelligence and charisma earned her the respect of the previously suspicious German Dukes. She also became very close to the Emperor, although he refused to appoint her as a counselor position because she was a woman. She also used her managerial skills to develop her families lands further, making them some of the wealthiest of the Empire.

But she faced repeated intrigue to remove her from power. Her various nephews continued to conspire against her. Some tried to kill her, others tried to organize factions to overthrow her. She managed to undermine all of these plots, throwing her nephews in jail, one by one.

Turmoil on the Empire’s eastern border soon called her attention. The Mongol horde out of the east had been gradually conquering Christian lands. They had seized Hungary a few years before, and now turned their sights on the Holy Roman Empire. In a massive invasion, they conquered Bohemia and the Empire’s lands in Italy. After a short respite, the Mongols attempted to conquer the Papacy itself. Christian leaders all over Europe rallied to defend the Pope, including  Denise. She raised her troops, and spent some of her own money on mercenaries to supplement them. The Christian armies turned back the Mongols, ending their advance into Europe.

Denise spent the rest of her life in peace, dying peacefully at 66.